This post presents excerpts from an article by Cody C. Delistraty about the significance of the social aspect of mealtime and how this is expressed in different cultures around the world. Complete with guiding questions for discussion, this article was shared in “A Meal With A Feel,” Onward Israel’s educational pamphlet designed to transform Shabbat dinner into a meaningful experience for all. As suggested in the pamphlet, either in the planning of your Shabbat meal or at the table together, read the article and share the thought questions provided or bring your own.
The Importance of Eating Together
After my mother passed away and my brother went to study in New Zealand, the first thing that really felt different was the dinner table. My father and I began eating separately. We went out to dinners with our friends, ate sandwiches in front of our computers, delivery pizzas while watching movies. Some days we rarely saw each other at all. Then, a few weeks before I was set to leave for university, my father walked downstairs. “You know, I think we should start eating together even if it’s just you and me,” he said. “Your mother would have wanted that.” It wasn’t ideal, of course—the meals we made weren’t particularly amazing and we missed the presence of Mom and my brother—but there was something special about setting aside time to be with my father. It was therapeutic: an excuse to talk, to reflect on the day, and on recent events. Our chats about the banal—of baseball and television—often led to discussions of the serious—of politics and death, of memories and loss. Eating together was a small act, and it required very little of us—45 minutes away from our usual, quotidian distractions—and yet it was invariably one of the happiest parts of my day. Sadly, Americans rarely eat together anymore. It’s a pity that so many Americans are missing out on what could be meaningful time with their loved one.
In many countries, mealtime is treated as sacred. In France, for instance, while it is acceptable to eat by oneself, one should never rush a meal. A frenzied salad muncher on the métro invites dirty glares, and employees are given at least an hour for lunch. In many Mexican cities, townspeople will eat together with friends and family in central areas like parks or town squares. In Cambodia, villagers spread out colorful mats and bring food to share with loved ones like a potluck.
How then do we eat better, not just from a nutritional perspective, but from a psychological one as well?
“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art,” said the 17th-century writer François de La Rochefoucauld.
Perhaps to “eat intelligently” one needs only to eat together. Although it would be nice to eat healthily as well, even take out makes for a decent enough meal, psychologically speaking, so long as your family, roommates or friends are present.
Questions to “Chew Over”
- Does your family and/or friends have traditions of eating together?
- During the week? For holidays? For birthdays? For Shabbat?
- If you have a family meal tradition – share it with others.
- Is it important to make time to eat together?
- What do you think of the quotation at the end of the excerpt – “To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.”
- What kinds of things can you do at your own table to ‘eat intelligently?’
- In what ways is eating an act of intimacy? Think about the ways we eat at a formal dinner or at a BBQ or at a business meeting or on a first date? What does the way we eat say about us?
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